NaNo Warm-Up Part 4

We’re heading into the home stretch. Just a mere 10 days before National Novel Writing Month officially kicks off.

Hopefully, you’ve taken advantage of some of the writing exercises I’ve shared in Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3, and it sparked a new juicy novel idea to work on next month.

For some, you might not have been as consistent with your writing as you would have liked and now you’re asking yourself how will you ever be able to write 1,667 words for 30 days in a row? That’s like going to take way longer than 10 or 15 minutes a day.

Your heart picked up a little just now, didn’t it? And your breathing got a little shallower. Your inner critic is probably laughing at you and telling you it’s not possible.




Of course, it’s possible. Thousands of people do it every year. And you can too. Consistency is the key. Every day you have to sit down and try. Try is the operative word. Even if you only manage to write, say, 100 words a day, that’s still 100 more words than you had yesterday. And that is cause for celebration. (Hey, if James Joyce considered two perfectly written sentences a full day’s work, so can you.)

So instead of giving you another writing exercise this week, something that may only take a few minutes to complete, I thought I’d share some tips on how to write consistently and not feel like crap about it.

  • Be specific about when and where you are going to write. Choose the time and place that fits your schedule. It may vary depending on what day of the week it is or even what your kids’ schedule is like, but knowing ahead of time when and where you will be writing every day will alleviate the first hurdle.
  • Set boundaries on your time. If you don’t have the luxury of living alone, don’t let other people bother you when you’re trying to write. Lock yourself in the bathroom, get up earlier or go to bed later than everyone else in the house, slip out to the library for an hour. The best place to write is a cemetery. No one bothers you there.
  • Decide on what or how much you want to accomplish each day. Start off by setting the bar low, like really low to start, so that when you’ve met your goal, you feel like a badass. Start with 100 words a day, then 250, then 500, then the dreaded 1,667.
  • Or if the thought of a word count already raises your blood pressure, start off by completing one scene per day, or one page per day. You’ll be in the company of John Steinbeck who advised the same thing when he wrote, “Abandon the idea that you are ever going to finish. Lose track of the 400 pages and write just one page each day, it helps. Then when it gets finished, you are always surprised.” 



  • Never stop writing when you can’t think of anything to say. You’ll be frustrated before you even start the next day and you’ll waste valuable, precious time pulling your hair out, slamming your fists on the desk, and swearing into your computer screen. Ernest Hemingway said it best when he offered this piece of fatherly advice, “You write until you come to a place where you still have your juice and know what will happen next, and you stop and try to live through until the next day when you hit it again.”
  • Create the habit of writing by attaching it to a habit you already have (preferably one that’s good for you, but I guess it doesn’t have to be). My favorite thing to do on weekend mornings is drink a pot of tea. When that tray comes out and the first cup is poured, I know it’s time to write.
  • Likewise, you can create a writing ritual. Perform the same meaningful (or meaningless) routine to get you in the mood. Charles Dickens would rearrange knickknacks on his desk, Steinbeck would sharpen 12 pencils, Mark Twain wrote lying down, and Victor Hugo stripped naked to write The Hunchback of Notre Dame. (For more weird writing rituals of famous authors, check out this book.)

If the thing that gets you down is not so much the time spent at writing but what you end up with on the page, remember you are not the only writer to ever think that what you’ve written is crap. Maya Angelou said, “What I try to do is write. I may write for two weeks ‘the cat sat on the mat, that is that, not a rat.’ And it might be just the most boring and awful stuff. But I try. When I’m writing, I write. And then it’s as if the muse is convinced that I’m serious and says, ‘Okay. Okay, I’ll come.'”

Remember the operative word is “try.” No one is going to think that what they wrote at such a furious pace like the one set by NaNo is great. And if they do, then it really is crap. The point behind the challenge is to just get the words out, the story finished, not to labor over linguistics.

Joshua Wolf Shenk puts it like this, “Get through a draft as quickly as possible. Hard to know the shape of the thing until you have a draft. Literally, when I wrote Lincoln’s Melancholy I thought, Oh, shit, now I get the shape of this. But I had wasted years, literally years, writing and rewriting the first third to first half. The old writer’s rule applies: Have the courage to write badly.”


So this week, make writing a priority, or at least set plans to in motion, and have the courage to try.

Hey, if it helps, you can always tell yourself you were trying to write the worst novel ever written.

Good luck!




That Was Then. This Is Now.

December’s a pretty busy time of year what with all the Christmas shopping, Christmas parties, Christmas itself (which realistically only lasts two hours), my sister’s birthday, school projects, the ballet, two plays, etc, so my friend and I decided it would be a good time to write a novel. Yes, we ripped off Chris Baty‘s November NaNoWriMo event and moved it to December because we were too lame (and late) to do it last month. 50,000 words, plus we get an extra day to do it in.

Oh, we also decided it would be well worth the effort to eat healthy and exercise every day while we were at it.

It’s the end of week one and I am totally impressed with ourselves. We both made our weekly quota of over 11k words. This is more words than I have probably written in the past ten years. They are not great words; it is not even a great story. In fact, I didn’t even have a clue what I was going to write about up until I sat down at my laptop on December 1 and had to write something.

My story is not going anywhere in the sense that I will never revise it or even consider doing anything more with it. At first, my Inner Critic was appalled.

IC: “What’s the point of spending all this time and energy and getting so stressed out to just write a piece of crap?” inner-critic

ME: “Well, Inner Critic, that is the point. Thanks to you, I have reread, rewritten, and reviled everything I have ever written to death, and it hasn’t gotten me anywhere. Why can’t I take this time to write something you have no control over and have fun with it? You know, fun, the way writing used to be before you showed up? And by the way, who the hell let you out of the kennel?”

So now my Inner Critic just sits on my shoulder and sniggers about the drivel dripping from my fingers as if he’s saying, “One day you’ll come back to me.”

That was then. This is now.

My friend and I posed the same challenge to ourselves in July. 50,000 words in 31 days. This time we failed. Neither of us even started past an idea in our head. We did manage to work on a graphic novel at least. But I felt kind of guilty that I wasted a whole month and never reached my goal even though I had already written three short stories. So I told myself that I would definitely write a novel in August.

Okay, it’s August 14, and I officially hate my Inner Critic. I’m seriously thinking about firing him because he’s a pain in the ass. When I was a  kid I wrote for fun, for me, for escape. I was the main character in all my stories and I led some pretty cool lives; I lived with rock stars, I dated rock stars, I was a rock star. I didn’t care about “character” or “plot” or “pacing” or “setting.” I just wrote and I’m pretty sure I hit all those elements without even trying.


Then I got this brilliant idea: let’s go to school to study creative writing! And guess what? That’s when my stupid Inner Critic showed up! Now everything I write has to “measure up” to some invisible audience’s expectations. Or worse: a publisher’s. Consequently, education sucked the spontaneity, creativity, and innocence out of writing for me.

There’s been one project that I’ve been working on for awhile that I’m pretty proud of. It’s a fan-fiction serial based on World of Warcraft that I write in installments. I don’t write it for anyone but me and a few guildmates who may or may not even read it. I don’t plan on doing anything serious with it (like trying to get it published), so it’s actually fun and probably some of my best off-the-cuff writing.

That’s what I want to get back to with everything I write–that non-feeling of dread when I sit down at the keyboard (if I even get there). I don’t want to do character sketches, or plot summaries, or scene outlines. I just want to write with the same non-pressure feeling I used to when I could be anything I wanted. (Which was always apparently a rock star.)